The House That Was Lost, but Now Found

The House That Was Lost, but Now Found

Serendipitous string of events saved the Moorefield House, those involved say.

Who is watching over the Moorefield House? While some may answer it's fate and other may reply it's a string of lucky coincidences, the prayers of many area residents were answered recently with the latest developments to preserve the 18th-century Vienna home.

"This house definitely had to be saved. Why, I don't know," said Vienna resident Mary Todd Gray, commenting on the events that led to the house's preservation.

The house, with its boarded-up windows and crumbling bricks, sits quietly in a subdivision off Nutley Street. For over 20 years, the town and residents alike have tried to save the house, but as no consensus could be reached, the house continued to deteriorate. When the town believed that the costs to save the house would be too great, the Vienna Town Council voted earlier this year to dismantle the house. The dismantling was to take place in late March.

But as news of the house's fate spread, it ignited a chain of events that would eventually preserve the home. Through chance meetings and newly formed partnerships among different groups of people interested in the home, the fate of the Moorefield House began to change.

"It's amazing how fast it happened," Gray said.

When Gray read in the paper that the Moorefield House faced the demolition block, she knew she had to do something. The author of a pictorial history and narrative of Caroline County, Va., Gray contacted her friend Herbert Collins, for advice. Collins, a historian, in turn referred her to Timothy Robinson, who specializes in restoring historic buildings.

Robinson received an e-mail from Gray three days before the house's dismantling. He went to Vienna to see the house for himself. As he was leaving the property, Historic Vienna's administrator, Margaret Kennedy, stopped by, unaware of who he was. When she found out why he was there, Kennedy referred him to other area residents interested in preserving the building. Two groups, a loose coalition of area Baptists and the Jeremiah Moore Society, had also heard that the building was about to be dismantled and were trying to find ways to save the structure.

"I said, ‘He's the answer to our prayers,’" Kennedy said, referring to Robinson.

ALTHOUGH AREA RESIDENTS have valued the house because of its age, many of those involved in current preservation efforts have vested interests in Jeremiah Moore, the house's namesake, and the Moore family. Moore was a Revolutionary War figure and Baptist preacher. He also exerted some political influence, those interested say.

"To us, Jeremiah Moore, other than Luther Rice, is the most important pioneer Baptist in this metropolitan area," said the Rev. Jere Allen, a retired executive minister with the D.C. Baptist Convention, as well as chair of the Convention's Historical Committee.

Allen said Moore was responsible for several key events in area Baptist history. Moore preached the first dedicatory sermon of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington in 1802; he was the founding pastor of the First Baptist Church of Alexandria in 1803; and he was the first pastor of the Second Baptist Church in the District, which is now the University Baptist Church in College Park. Moore also may have been jailed for preaching the Gospel in the early 1800s.

Because of Moore's role in Baptist history, the D.C. Baptist Convention and the Mount Vernon Baptist Association, both of which represent Baptist churches throughout the region, are seeking land for the Moorefield House to be rebuilt. Representatives from those conventions, as well as members of the First Baptist Church of Alexandria and the Vienna Baptist Church, visited the house recently and took a tour of the building.

"We're interested because he's a Baptist pioneer," Allen said.

"He and others worked very hard for the disestablishment of the state church ... and for everyone to have freedom of religion," said Vienna Baptist member Jerry Duane.

Others involved in the house's preservation are interested in Moore's political influence. Joan Randell of the Jeremiah Moore Society said Moore counseled Thomas Jefferson toward the abolition of slavery. She said that in addition to advocating freedom of religion, Moore insisted that women should have property rights. Furthermore, the Moore family had friendships with three founding presidents.

"Here's this person who's a fabulous example of good citizenship," Randell said.

WITH THE APPROVAL of the contract by the Vienna Town Council for Timothy Robinson to dismantle the Moorefield House, the next step is to dismantle the house, find a place to store it, and find a place to put it back up again. Robinson, a restorer and owner of his own restoration company, Heartland Restorations, has until Sept. 15 to dismantle the house and remove it from its current site. He said he plans to strip the brick facade and then take apart and label the historical portion of the home. The original 1780 structure will be saved, as well as the 1830s addition to the home.

As he works to dismantle the home, the Jeremiah Moore Society will raise funds to store the components and reconstruct the house. They will also work with the Baptists to find a new site for the home. They hope to make an exhibit out of the house, for people to learn not only about early American history but about Moore himself.

"It's still a challenge," said Robinson, on dismantling the house. Yet Robinson argued that 75 to 80 percent of the house was still in good shape. "As far as the building itself, it's all there."

For now, the Jeremiah Moore Society needs to raise around $7,000 to dismantle the structure. The total cost to dismantle the house is roughly $10,000. Robinson is charging $7,000, half of which the town has given for the dismantling. The remaining $3,000 will be for the dismantling of the chimneys.

But those involved in preserving the house say the money will be well spent.

"I do it because [of] this man's part in American history," said Robinson of his involvement.

Todd, quoting Herbert Collins, agreed. To her, preserving Moorefield's House's history is invaluable.

"He said, ‘But what is the value of the history you're preserving?’" Todd said.